More than half of Europe’s population is expected to be infected with the omicron variant of the coronavirus within the next six to eight weeks, the top European official at the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
Europe saw more than 7 million new cases of COVID-19 reported in the first week of 2022, which more than doubled in a two-week period, said the WHO director for the Europe, Hans Kluge, at a press briefing.
“At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts that more than 50% of the region’s population will be infected with omicron in the next 6 to 8 weeks” , Kluge said.
He added that “The unprecedented scale of transmission” Fueled by the spread of this highly transmissible variant is triggering an increase in hospital admissions, straining health systems across the continent.
Mortality, meanwhile, remains stable as the mortality rates associated with Omicron appear to be lower than with previous strains. However, deaths continue to be high in countries with the highest number of infections and low immunization.
Nonetheless, existing approved vaccines continue to offer good protection against serious illness and death, including against Omicron, Kluge said.
Kluge said he was ” deeply concerned “ by the fact that Omicron is moving east ” where immunization levels are lower and where we will see more severe disease in the unvaccinated ”.
He added that countries where Omicron’s push has already started should try to minimize disruption to health systems and essential services.
“This means prioritizing vulnerable people for primary school and booster doses, advising them to avoid closed and overcrowded spaces, and providing the ability to work remotely where possible until the outbreak. ‘infection passes’, did he declare.
He also argued that it would be necessary to scale up primary care and that PCR testing should be a priority for people at risk of developing serious illness, healthcare workers and other critical workers as well as patients. hospitalized in health facilities or long-term care facilities.
As many countries in the EU and beyond move towards shorter quarantine and isolation periods, Kluge said such a decision should only be made “Only when it is considered essential to preserve the continuity of the critical service”, and in combination with negative Covid-19 tests.
“Any such decision must be taken carefully weighing the risks and rewards of doing so”, he warned.
In the EU, the isolation period ranges from seven to 14 days, depending on the country and the severity of symptoms developed by the patient.